Before we begin writing essays, let’s review the different pieces of composition (that is, the structure of our writing). Let’s start with the three parts of a complete sentence:
- subject = the “doer” of the main action or state of being
- verb = the main action or state or being
- complete idea = all the information necessary to understand the message
Sentences can be simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex. The difference is how many independent clauses and dependent clauses there are. You’ll study clauses in more detail later in the course. For now, remember:
- independent clause = subject + verb + complete idea (like a simple sentence)
- dependent clause = subject + verb but no complete idea (it depends on the other part(s) of the sentence to make sense)
Here are some examples of different sentence types:
- simple sentence (one independent clause): Mitch likes to eat rice.
- compound sentence (two independent clauses): Mitch likes to eat rice, but he doesn’t like noodles.
- complex sentence (one independent clause and one or more dependent clauses): Mitch likes to eat rice when he is home alone.
- compound/complex sentence (more than one independent clause and at least one dependent clause): Mitch likes to eat rice when he is home alone, but he doesn’t like noodles.
In a paragraph or an essay, you want to have a variety of sentence types. Some types of sentences are helpful to better show the connection between ideas. Sometimes, however, you use different sentence types just for variety. It makes the text more interesting for the reader. You can think of it like changing the rhythm of music.
Things get more interesting when you start to look at how you put sentences together to make a paragraph and, later, an essay. They each have three parts, and they actually mirror each other. Take a closer look. How does an item on the left reflect an item on the right?
|A complete paragraph||A complete essay|
|topic sentence that includes both a topic [subject] and controlling idea
supporting sentences with details to explain the topic sentence
concluding sentence or transition
introduction paragraph (with hook, background information and thesis)
body paragraphs (each paragraph provides a main idea [topic sentence] and supporting sentences to explain the thesis)
concluding paragraph (restates the thesis, summarizes the main points, and wraps up the essay with a final thought)
INSTRUCTIONS: Which parts of a paragraph and which parts of an essay do similar jobs? Match them using the exercise below.
Remember: As you begin to write longer essays, a body paragraph might not end with a concluding sentence. Instead, you might use transition words to connect one idea to the next.
Now look at these examples. Notice how the shorter and simpler paragraph can serve as an outline for the longer and more complicated essay.
“Honesty is the best policy” is a familiar saying, and a president of the United States proved it. Once there was a man named George who, even as a boy, had great integrity. When he turned 6, his father gave him a hatchet, and every day George amused himself by chopping everything he saw. One day, he took his hatchet to his father’s beautiful cherry tree. Because of that, his father was very angry and asked everyone, “Do you know who killed that beautiful cherry tree?” Because George was scared, he didn’t want to answer. But George was also honest, and he told his father the truth. “Father, I cannot tell a lie. I cut the tree.” He looked at his father for a long time until finally his father’s anger melted away and he embraced his son, explaining that honesty was worth more than a thousand trees. Despite what he did, George was spared punishment because he had learned for himself that honesty is, indeed, the best choice.
“Honesty is the best policy” is a familiar saying. However, sometimes this idea is easy to forget, even for presidents. When George Washington was a boy, for example, he learned an important lesson about why it is better to tell the truth than lie.
On George’s sixth birthday, his father gave him a special gift: a tiny axe called a hatchet. This hatchet was about eight inches long, and it had a smooth wooden handle. At the end of the handle was a heavy, metal head with a dangerously sharp edge. When George swung the hatchet, the blade easily cut anything and everything. Every day he walked outside and chopped everything he saw: plants, flowers, bushes.
One day, he wanted to show how strong he was, and he wanted to chop something much larger. In his family’s garden, he saw the perfect prize: the precious young cherry tree that his father had planted one year earlier. It was big — but not too big — and the hatchet cracked the wood with only two tries. The tree fell, and George felt proud.
When George’s father returned home from working all day in the field, he was shocked by what had happened. He walked outside to his garden and noticed something quite strange. The cherry tree — his favorite tree in the whole garden — had been cut into two. It was destroyed. George’s father was very angry and asked his family, “Do you know who killed that beautiful cherry tree?” Because George was scared, he didn’t want to answer. But George was also honest, and he told his father the truth. He whispered quietly, “Father, I cannot tell a lie. I cut the tree.”
George was unsure what would happen next. He looked at his father for a long time, but his father said nothing. His father only stared back; he was thinking about what had happened and what George had said. Finally, the icy anger of George’s father melted away. The father embraced his son and explained that honesty was worth more than a thousand trees.
Even as a boy, George Washington was a man of integrity. This old story may be only a legend, but its lesson is still valuable today. Honesty is the best policy for children and for presidents.
1. Choose three topics from the list below. Share your opinion. Write one complete sentence for each topic that you choose.
- free speech
- food and shelter
2. Choose two of your sentences. Expand them into paragraphs of 3-5 sentences each. Write a topic sentence with topic and a controlling idea. Then use 2-3 supporting details to explain your topic sentence.
3. Save your work to use in the assignment that follows.